Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Supercomputing Serengeti

The SC Perennials offer reflections on the annual migration

By Mike Bernhardt

How many of you can say you’ve attended any type of annual event 27 years in a row?  When it comes to the SC conferences, that claim to fame would only apply to 18 very hardy souls we like to refer to as the SC Perennials.  SC15 in Austin, Texas, will be the 28th annual migration for this group.  For more background on the SC Perennials, click here.

Jack Dongarra addresses the press at SC14.
Professor Jack Dongarra is one of the SC Perennials. Jack’s name is known to both the seasoned conference attendees and the community’s newest entrants.  His work with Linpack, system performance benchmarks and analysis, the TOP 500, and the SC conference itself, among numerous other contributions, has had a significant impact on building awareness for the importance of the HPC community and has been a key factor in bringing an understanding and appreciation of supercomputing to much of the world’s media.

Jack Dongarra is a warm and approachable guy and he wears his professorial title well.  He warmly states that attending the SC conference each year is like a family reunion – a homecoming – with the added benefit of connecting with so many old friends.  That reflection is shared by many of us.   Even though the watering hole location changes each year, the migration of the HPC community, like the great migration of the Serengeti, is an event we can all count on, and one we count on with great anticipation.

The SC conference has such a rich history and has evolved into one of the finest, most respected technical conferences in the world. Looking back, all of the SC Perennials remember that first keynote presentation with the legendary Seymour Cray, “What's this about Gallium Arsenide?”  While a few people recognized the historical significance of that first event in 1988, it never even dawned on many of us that we were participating in a gathering that would change the world of scientific computing so significantly.  Who could have known back then how the SC conference series would grow into the amazing technical program and networking event it is today?

Steve Wallach - HPC expert
One of the community’s undisputed HPC Rock Stars, Steve Wallach, has a fond memory of asking Seymour a question about debugging the Cray-2, the start of many future conversations between the two. Wallach by the way, is one of the honored recipients of the IEEE Computer Society’s Seymour Cray Award*.

I was a Marketing Communications Director with Multiflow Computer at that first event and had the awkward experience of literally bumping into Seymour as I was carrying an unmanageable armful of literature into the tiny exhibit hall area.  Papers went flying everywhere and the man himself stopped to help me pick them up.  I was both humbled and embarrassed, but by the time SC88 came to a close, I was truly inspired.  We didn’t use the term HPC back then.  It was all supercomputing.  And I knew from that time I had found my home in this community.

Several of the SC Perennials recall how manageable the size of the conference was and interestingly the fact that there were very few marketing types in attendance.  I recall that too. I felt awkward telling people I was in marketing – a comment that usually resulted in someone rolling their eyes and brushing me off.  I vowed to do what I could to bring some appreciation and respect to how people in the community perceived us marketing types. 

Maxine Brown has a long SC history.
Maxine Brown who currently serves as Director of the Electronic Visualization Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago, recalls hosting the Visualization Theater at SC88.  Maxine and her colleagues collected videos that were published as part of SIGGRAPH’s Video Review (SVR), along with a 3D movie created by Digital Productions, a Hollywood computer animation company that owned a Cray X-MP.  In many ways, this was the infancy of 3D movies, and in fact, there were no 3D projectors in Orlando, so her team had to rent one from Miami and have it brought in.

According to Maxine, “I started attending SC to showcase areas of research in which I was involved that were also relevant to the supercomputing community, from visualization in scientific computing to the CAVE virtual environment, to national and international high-performance networks. And, while that’s still an important part of why I attend, it is perhaps even more important that it is the only worldwide venue of which I am aware that attracts most of my national and international collaborators, friends and funding agency representatives, all in one place for an exhausting but productive and pleasurable week.”

We’ll have more reflections from the SC Perennials in subsequent blog posts, but we also invite you to post your comments and share with us some of your favorite SC memories - whether it be technical program lessons, colorful presentations, memorable keynotes, and of course, those amazing special events and parties for which SC has become so well known.  Send memories or story ideas to: sc15communications@committee.supercomputing.org

The legendary Seymour Cray.
*The Seymour Cray Award, is an award given by the IEEE Computer Society, to recognize significant and innovative contributions in the field of high-performance computing. The award honors scientists who exhibit the creativity demonstrated by Seymour Cray, founder of Cray Research, Inc., and an early pioneer of supercomputing.

1 comment:

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